Who else but Navalny? Kremlin critic’s illness a blow for campaign to break Putin’s grip Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s sudden illness has upended his strategy to challenge Vladimir Putin’s grip on power at upcoming regional elections. But it also exposes a longer-term issue – the leadership vacuum within Russia’s opposition. Navalny, 44, now lying in a Berlin hospital after a suspected poisoning, had been urging supporters to vote tactically for candidates running against the ruling United Russia party in mid-September. Russians will elect 18 governors, as well as local parliaments and city councillors in country-wide voting which is effectively a dry run for parliamentary elections in September 2021. Though Putin – in his fourth term of office – looks unassailable as Russian leader, the elections take place amid frustration over years of falling wages and a coronavirus lockdown that pushed his approval rating to two-decade lows.